Northern Ireland Assembly
Monday 24 January 2000 (continued)
Mr A Maginness:
Is it not a fact that Patten went out of his way to try to attract more women into the new police service by recommending career breaks, part-time working and other measures?
We supported the recommendation not to disband the entire Reserve, because we were concerned that it would obviously detract from the number of females who were currently in the RUC, and he took up the recommendation that the part-time Reserve should be retained.
I agree that the civilianisation of the new police service will increase the number of women, and it was useful for him to see that as a way of attracting recruits. They may come in as civilians and then move on to being full members of the police service. Different jobs will obviously be done by police officers and civilians, but potentially, this may increase the number of women.
It is extremely important to recruit female police officers, outreach work should be done, and potential targets and timetables should be set down. Because of his own profession, the Member will be aware of the fact that many women who are victims of certain types of crime - sexual abuse, for example - want to speak to female police officers to whom they can relate. That is currently not possible in the police service.
People need to be aware, not just in terms of Patten's recommendations, that police officers are taking advantage of funding for retraining and rehabilitation. Over £3 million has been set aside in the Peace and Reconciliation Fund - the European Fund - and that is currently being spent. Patten has not said that so many police officers are going to be made redundant, but that is going on already. Some are choosing to move out of the police service. Many have gained degrees and post-graduate qualifications and are now in a position to move on.
Finally, there are two other points that the legislation should take up. One is that both the policing board and the district partnership policing boards are likely to be public bodies, so Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act should apply to them in that they should be looking at recruitment, the procurement of services and, indeed, public safety. These are all functions mentioned in Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act. We too will be looking at the legislation when it comes out to see if that recommendation has been taken up.
An oversight commissioner is essential, and we know that from other aspects of the agreement. If we create a vacuum and just expect that change to be implemented without its being monitored or evaluated by someone who has taken an holistic view of what is happening, justice will not be done to the amount of work that has gone into looking at how we want to be policed in the future. I am, however, concerned about the lack of focus on when that person should take up the post.
The Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission and the Police Commission have a role to play in this debate, and the legislation should refer to there being liaison with these bodies. We have such a reference for the Assembly.
I await the outcome of the criminal justice review. It is essential that this debate does not take place in isolation. As those of us who have worked in this field know, policing is only one aspect of the matter. There is also the matter of dealing with crime and with how a society ought to operate; the prosecution of and sentencing for a particular crime are also essential. What body will do that, and how accountable will it be?
It would be very difficult to have a debate on that without knowing what the recommendations of the Criminal Justice Review Body's report will be.
I also take issue with David Ervine's comment that the only difficult issues in the Belfast Agreement were the issues of decommissioning and policing. There were many difficult issues in the agreement. There was the constitutional issue, and today we are dealing with an institutional one. But there were also the important issues of victims and how to create for the future a society based on tolerance.
Do these proposals promote effective and efficient policing? My answer, having reflected on the recommendations and on the comments of the Secretary of State to date, is yes.
Will they deliver fair and impartial policing, free from partisan control? Yes, they have the potential to do so.
Do they provide for accountability both to the law and to the community? Yes, potentially.
Will they make the police more representative of the society they serve? With the addendum that I have given in relation to gender representation, the answer is yes.
Will they protect and vindicate the human rights and human dignity of all? This is probably the most important question of all. If we recognise the divisions that exist and begin to acknowledge them, and if we base respect for human rights at the core of any new police service, the answer is yes.
Mr McCartney, I wish to give notice that I intend to suspend the sitting not later than 2.00 pm.
So you are, if I may say so, treating me differently from every other Member. No other party leader was put under any constraint. Am I to assume that if I am not finished my speech by 2.00 pm, I will not be able to resume it at 4.00 pm?
That is correct, and in giving you that amount of time, you will be able to speak for longer than almost any of the other Members bar the Member who moved the motion.
It is a matter of regret that I speak at a time when less than 10% of the Assembly is present. There are two Members from each of the major parties present, but those whom I particularly wished to address - those fronting paramilitary organisations such as Sinn Féin and the PUP - are not represented at all. That must be a matter of regret for everyone.
As Carson once said,
"There are none so loathsome as those who betray their friends to placate their enemies."
There can be no doubt that the fundamental and driving principle of British policy in Northern Ireland has been to avoid the repetition of any bombs in the City of London. While I have been reiterating this principle for some five years, it is only in recent times - over the last four months - that it has become commonly acknowledged by almost every major political commentator. What effect has that principle had on law and order in Northern Ireland and on the police in general?
Let us look at Sinn Féin, the party inextricably linked with the IRA and capable of making good the threat to bomb the City of London. What have they received under the Belfast Agreement?
Their key issues were as follows. First, the release of all the prisoners, which has been virtually accomplished. Secondly, a place in the negotiations and, ultimately, a place in the Executive Government of Northern Ireland. That has been accomplished. Thirdly, a reform of the criminal justice system, which was brought into effect to deal with their terrorism. Fourthly, the destruction of the RUC, which they clearly regarded as an abiding bulwark between the preservation of the rule of law and the success of armed violent political terrorism. All of these have been delivered under the guise of a new political dispensation in Northern Ireland.
It is alleged, in relation to the RUC, that in terms of both their name and their composition, they are unacceptable to the Northern Ireland community. History has a curious way of repeating itself. During the period from 1918 to 1921 the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) policed the whole of Ireland. No complaint was made against the RIC in respect of the discharge of their ordinary functions, in respect of what is now described as ordinary policing of ordinary crime. Certainly no critisicm was directed at the RIC in terms of its religious composition, even though nearly 70% of its constables were Roman Catholic. What it did attract - just like the RUC- was vilification and the most intense propaganda, and its officers were murdered and mutilated. That was because they were utilised by the Government of the day to oppose violent political terrorism and as a means of bringing about political change.
I have personal experience of working with the police in the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. In my experience there has never been any real complaint from the Nationalist community about the actions of the police in discharging their duties in respect of what might be called their ordinary criminal jurisdiction - the detection of rapists, child molesters, house-breakers, burglars and those guilty of common assault.
There has been little or no complaint at all from the Nationalist community. Indeed, as the opening paragraphs of the Patten Report make clear, the RUC has as good an acceptance level from the entire community as any police force on the continent of Europe - indeed better than some in many other places. Only in England and Scotland was the level of acceptance exceeded. Why, therefore, does the RUC suddenly become unacceptable? They are unacceptable because they have provided an effective police force, essentially against political terrorism.
I can draw comparisons between the police and the judiciary. The integrity, impartiality and fairness of the judiciary that, day after day, disposed of domestic law and divorces, that settled compensation claims for road accidents and factory injuries, that settled land disputes and commercial problems, was never questioned. The very same judges, when discharging their duty in dealing with crimes arising from political violence and terrorism, suddenly grew horns. Like the police, they became objects worthy of assassination, of murder and the targets for bombs.
The real issue is not one of policing. The real issue is political. The British Government have addressed that. In order to appease violent Republicanism and to keep bombs out of the City of London, they have had to come to terms with the demands of Sinn Féin/IRA. One of their demands, which still exists to this moment, is the complete destruction and removal of the RUC. Mrs Nelis made it clear that she is not interested in a reformed RUC. She wants its complete removal.
Let me move on. The British Government set up the Patten Commission within the terms of reference agreed by the Ulster Unionist leadership. Its remit was clear. Indeed, Mr Ken Maginnis, the security spokesman for the Ulster Unionist Party, claimed on television that he personally had been responsible for the inclusion of the issue of RUC reform in the agreement. Be that as it may, having provided the remit for reform, that party has now transformed itself into the defender of the RUC.
Secondly, it is plain that the anger which Mr Maginnis and Mr Trimble demonstrated in the House of Commons last Wednesday did not relate to 99·9% of the reforms. It was occasioned by the fact that the Secretary of State, Mr Mandelson, did not even leave them the fig leaf of a cap badge to cover their nakedness. They were left with nothing to take back to the grass-roots Unionists who will ultimately judge them for what they have done.
Mr Trimble and Mr Maginnis signed the agreement. Mr Maginnis has, apparently, been a very strong defender of the RUC throughout. Yet, in a revealing response to the assumed anger of Mr Maginness in the House of Commons Mr Mandelson pointed out what everyone knows. He said "What you, Mr Maginnis, are saying in a rhetorical fashion for the benefit of your listeners is quite different from what you tell me in private." He was making it quite clear, as Matthew Parris observed in the columns of 'The Times', that the Mr Maginnis who talked behind closed doors about the future of the RUC was very different from the one who beat his chest and rent his garments on the Floor of the House of Commons.
Let me move on to some of the remarks made by Mr Ervine. He said, in a very interesting speech, that the "in your face" behaviour of Sinn Féin in rubbing salt in the sensitivities and wounds of the Unionist community did not augur well for the success of this new dispensation. One of the salt-rubbing exercises is Sinn Féin's failure to deliver one ounce of Semtex or a single bullet. Mr Ervine berated Sinn Féin. However, who has given Sinn Féin its best excuse for not decommissioning, if not the paramilitary groups that Mr Ervine fronts? They have made it clear that even if Sinn Féin were to decommission, they will not.
I was also interested by Mr Ervine's statement that he and his Colleague are alive today only because of the RUC. That is an interesting paradox. Many other people would not be alive today if the RUC had not intercepted Mr Ervine carrying a huge bomb which was presumably destined for some Nationalist area or premises.
We have to be thankful to the RUC for a number of mercies - not only for preserving Mr Ervine for posterity but also for preserving the lives that he might have taken at an earlier date had it not been for its assiduous discharge of its duties.
I have much experience of the RUC and the security forces in general. For over 20 years I acted for members of the RUC and the military in relation to their claims for criminal compensation. That experience carved on my mind some factors which make it impossible for me to have anything whatever to do with Sinn Féin while it is inextricably linked with the IRA.
I have memories of bombs being thrown over a wall where some Army dog handlers were working - of a young man in his twenties without legs or genitals screaming to his colleagues to shoot him. I have memories of many of those young men in their teens who were in the bus that was blown up on the way to the Omagh depot - men without legs, arms and eyes, maimed for the rest of their lives.
I have an even more vivid memory of the bomb that went off at the bus station on "bloody Friday" - I was then a barrister practising in the law courts - when RUC men shovelled up the remains of human beings, including those of the teenage son of the clergyman Mr Parker, and put them in plastic bags. Mr Gerry Adams, the leader of Sinn Féin - I wish he were here today - was the commandant of the Belfast brigade at the time of the "bloody Friday" massacre.
I think of those at Whitecross and Teebane. They were innocent workmen - not partisans, not people involved in any way in terrorism - sent to their untimely ends by Sinn Féin, an organisation which the British Prime Minister and his Ministers state is still inextricably linked with the IRA. "Inextricably linked" means that they can never be separated, and yet Mr Trimble has sent a round-robin letter to some MPs protesting that because they are unreconstructed terrorists, Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness should not be afforded the facilities of the House of Commons. That allows Sinn Féin to make the riposte "Well, why in those circumstances are you sitting with us in the Northern Ireland Executive?" Those are matters which the leadership of the Ulster Unionist Party will have to resolve.
Decommissioning is intimately connected to the issue of policing. Calls have been made for a civilian, unarmed police force. Certainly that is an aspiration of many. But can there be such a police force while vast arsenals of weapons of destruction - weapons that have been used to murder over 2,000 of the 3,000-plus people who have been killed in these troubles - are still in the hands of those who carried out those executions? Since the alleged ceasefire, these people have continued to commit acts of murder. They are attempting to murder people like Martin McGartland, and they murdered Charles Bennett and Mr Kearney. They are beating, intimidating and murdering - and we talk about recruitment.
In its comments on the Patten proposals the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, which is composed of Catholics and Protestants and has a Catholic Chairman, made it absolutely clear that, in its view, the change of name would make virtually no difference to recruitment.
Everyone knows the reason for the low percentage of Roman Catholics in both the RUC and the UDR. Roman Catholics who joined were put in danger of death, and those in the Nationalist communities who talked about joining were intimidated and threatened, and this extended not just to those people themselves but to their families who were boycotted and sent to Coventry.
The debate was suspended.
The sitting was, by leave, suspended at 2.00 pm.
On resuming -
Following last week's Question Time one of the Ministers wrote to me to say that he was not always able to hear the supplementary questions clearly. Therefore I ask Members to be as clear in their diction as they undoubtedly will be in their wording.
Victims of Violence
Ms McWilliams asked the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to outline how they are co-ordinating their work in regard to victims with similar responsibilities held by the Northern Ireland Office.
The First Minister (Mr Trimble):
The Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will adopt a central co-ordinating role in relation to services for victims provided by the Northern Ireland Departments and will promote greater awareness of their needs in all parts of the devolved Administration. The Northern Ireland Office retains important functions in relation to victims, including criminal justice and compensation responsibilities. Ministers and officials in the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister will liaise regularly with the Northern Ireland Office on matters of joint interest relating to victims to ensure that their respective policies are complementary.
Does the First Minister agree that given the current confusion in the sectors in terms of the various responsibilities it might be useful for the Office of the Centre to publish its own particular remit and responsibilities and, indeed, at some stage, consider a strategy for Northern Ireland victims?
The First Minister:
I take the Member's point. We are in the course of establishing a unit within the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to co-ordinate the new devolved Administration's response to the needs of victims. The new unit, obviously, will build on existing work and co-operate closely with the Victims Liaison Unit, but I take on board the points that the Member has raised.
Does the First Minister agree that the Patten Report's scant reference to the sacrifice of the 302 RUC officers who were murdered and to the thousands who were maimed by terrorist violence was a disgraceful and insulting oversight and an example of the report's inadequacies? Will he also continue to lobby the Secretary of State to ensure that generous compensation is awarded to the victims of Chris Patten, namely, those officers who will lose their jobs and their livelihoods? Thought should be given to the erection of a public memorial to all the police officers who lost their lives in the service of the community.
The First Minister:
I agree with the Member's assessment of Patten and congratulate him on his contribution to this morning's debate. We will, of course, continue to lobby the Secretary of State to ensure that the Government are generous to those who lose their jobs as a result of the downsizing of the force. I had a meeting with the Police Federation last Thursday, and I will remain in close contact with them. I believe that serious thought is being given by the police to the erection of a permanent memorial to the RUC officers who were killed in the service of the community. I would welcome views on that matter too.
Mr A Maginness:
In the light of what has been said, can the First Minister outline funding plans for the Victims Unit and for victims groups throughout Northern Ireland? Will that funding come exclusively from the Office of the Centre?
The First Minister:
The Northern Ireland Office allocated special funds totalling some £6·25 million following the Bloomfield report. I understand that this has been allocated by way of a global grant of £3 million to the Northern Ireland Voluntary Trust to assist victims groups and £2 million towards the establishment of a memorial fund. In addition, there is an educational bursary scheme, and the Northern Ireland Family Trauma Centre has also been established.
With regard to the funding which might come from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister, I believe that that is something which we should consider in the context of evolving the programme of government.
Mrs E Bell:
Following on from Prof McWilliams's question, I would like some reassurance about real and practical co-ordination between the Northern Ireland Office, the Victims Liaison Unit and the Committee of the Centre, particularly with regard to funding.
We have had party meetings with Minister Ingram, and I would like to know if these will be a feature of the new Committee.
The First Minister:
The hon Member raises an important point. When responsibilities are divided between the Northern Ireland Office and various Northern Ireland Departments, there is the danger of a lack of co-ordination. We have had meetings with Mr Ingram and his staff at official level and are hoping to have a meeting at ministerial level in the near future. As I said earlier, we are establishing a unit within the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister to deal specifically with this issue.
TSN Action plans
Mr McGrady asked the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister what efforts will be made to ensure that the new TSN action plans address inequality and deprivation and if they will make a statement.
The Deputy First Minister (Mr Mallon):
The new TSN, as developed by the direct-rule Administration, aims to tackle social need and social exclusion. Draft plans were developed to address inequality and deprivation by refocussing resources within existing programmes towards those with the greatest social needs. The poorest people, groups and areas are identified using objective measures of need such as benefit dependancy or area-based measures of deprivation.
Following the current consultation on these draft plans, Ministers will consider them and the consultation responses. The Executive Committee will then consider the new TSN policy, including the implementation and monitoring of the action plans.
I thank my ministerial Friend for his answer. Will he take into consideration the fact that the new targeting social needs document does not contain plans that are any different from those which existed to address social deprivation in isolated wards in particular council areas?
Will the Minister undertake a review of that situation? Under the Robson indicators, the continuation of that policy will simply mean, for instance, that enhanced financial facilities for inward investors will not be available in those socially deprived areas.
The Deputy First Minister:
I thank the Member for his question. As he knows, the draft plans are out for consultation. All views received during the consultation period will be considered carefully and analysed, and they will include the concerns he has expressed.
The Robson indicators were developed to identify areas which are subject to multiple deprivation. They take into account pockets of deprivation, and they are more sensitive to local factors than some of the previous indicators.
I readily accept that the Robson indicators are based on figures from the 1991 census. However, statisticians have identified ways in which they can be used in conjunction with other measures to take account of the changes since then. Also, consideration has already been given to future measures of multiple deprivation based on the 2001 census data.
Increasing use has also been made of administrative data in particular fields which can provide highly accurate local information.
Further to what Mr McGrady has said, does the Deputy First Minister agree that TSN areas should be defined to ensure that pockets of deprivation within otherwise affluent wards should not be disadvantaged in the review?
The Deputy First Minister:
I agree absolutely. I believe that this is one of the problems of the very nature of TSN. It is a matter with which we have to grapple, but we must ensure that whatever measures we use, they will be adequate to identify specific areas of need in areas that are generally more affluent.
It is there that the effects of targeting social need are most beneficial and, indeed, most needed.
I had some difficulty hearing the Deputy First Minister's reply to Mr McGrady. I had intended to pursue the question of the Robson indices further. If one must wait until the year 2001 for the census, one needs some system to analyse deprivation now as opposed to waiting until then to draw up plans on the basis of the census figures, since current figures are already obsolete.
The Deputy First Minister:
It is obvious that we must wait until 2001 for the new census and those figures. However, I feel that there are sufficient indicators from the previous census, from other sources of statistical information and, indeed, from the experiences of the various Government Departments. The Departments have put forward their proposals in the draft action plans. They are based on experience as well as statistical information. The combination of the three - the present method, the method which will be in use after 2001 and, indeed, the good sense and judgement of each Department - when taken together, will contribute to addressing the problems in this area properly.
I have heard that in the allocation of additional milk quota, preference will be given to TSN areas, many of which are in upland regions unsuitable for efficient dairy farming. Does the Deputy First Minister agree that this would be foolish?
The Deputy First Minister:
I did not fully hear the question. I am faced with a similar problem. It is not my desire to stray into matters agricultural, as it is not my brief. However, if I have misunderstood the thrust of the Member's question, he may correct me. It seems to be that simply because of the predominance of disadvantage in urban areas, we sometimes forget that there is also substantial disadvantage in rural areas. As someone from a rural area, I will certainly not succumb to the temptation to ignore areas of deprivation in rural areas, irrespective of what height they are above sea level.
I would like to repeat my plea that Members make their supplementary questions audible. This is particularly apposite in the case of the next speaker, Mr Paisley Jnr.
Interest Relief Loan Scheme
Mr Paisley Jnr asked the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister whether the First Minister briefed the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development about the interest relief loan scheme proposal.
The First Minister:
I asked my party's spokesman on agricultural matters, Mr George Savage, to brief the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development on his proposals for an interest relief loan scheme for farmers. I can confirm that Mr Savage had a brief telephone conversation with the Minister on Wednesday 12 January, meeting Ms Rodgers on Friday 14 January.
Mr Paisley Jnr:
The First Minister must be aware that, in a written answer dated Friday 21 January, the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development stated that her office has still not formally received proposals for such an agricultural relief scheme. Will the First Minister now publicly take this opportunity to apologise to the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development for the embarrassing actions of his office? Will he stop playing party politics with the lives and activities of farmers? Will he explain to this House just what sort of half-baked organisation he is in charge of?
The First Minister:
It is perfectly clear that if anyone is playing party politics it is Mr Paisley Jnr. He knows that this is far too serious an issue to be dealt with in this way. He would do much better were he to concentrate on the substance of the matter.
In view of the fact that farm debt levels are currently estimated at around £500 million - a sum almost impossible to service, given current levels of farm income - it seems to me that Mr Savage's proposal merits serious consideration. Can the Deputy First Minister confirm that the forthcoming visit by officials from the European Investment Bank would be a suitable opportunity to look at means of financing this loan proposal?
The First Minister:
I agree with the Member's first point that this is an issue of considerable magnitude and urgency. With regard to the visit of officials from the European Investment Bank, I hope that it may be possible to act on it.
Last week the Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development told the Committee that there was a major shortfall in core funding for her Department. In the light of his new concerns for farmers, will the First Minister give a commitment to find additional funding for agri-environmental schemes from resources at the disposal of the Executive?
The First Minister:
It is obvious that no such commitment can be given at this stage.
Rev Dr Ian Paisley:
Does the First Minister not realise that the proposal that was brought out of the cupboard by his party had already been submitted by a joint party of MPs at Westminster? Mr Brown said that he would not put that proposal forward in Europe or pursue it at all at Westminster.
The First Minister:
I would have thought that the Member would still be anxious to see that the problem was addressed notwithstanding an earlier refusal by a Minister. Even if it is exactly the same scheme, surely we should have a little more persistence than that.
National Fiscal Policies
Mr Close asked the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister what representation they intend to make to the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the potentially adverse impact of national fiscal policies on the Northern Ireland economy.
The Deputy First Minister:
The question of the adverse impact of national fiscal policies on fuel excise duty on the Northern Ireland economy was raised with the Prime Minister at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference on 17 December 1999. As the difficulty stems from differences between fiscal policies in Britain and Ireland, the matter is now on the work plan of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. Separately, representations have been made to the Treasury on a number of occasions about fiscal policy, and a meeting involving the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister has been sought.
The Deputy First Minister referred to one of the areas that gives me great concern, but there are a number of other areas - for example, the proposed tax on aggregates, the climate change levy and air passenger duty. Our peripheral location leaves us in a disadvantaged position. If we are seriously to adopt a system of joined-up government, it is important that the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister take these issues seriously, and go directly to the Treasury and attempt to get some form of abatement for the people of Northern Ireland.
The Deputy First Minister:
I fully agree with the Member. It is a matter of how we can do that most effectively. In relation to many of these issues, representation has already been made by at least one Minister of the new Administration. The matter was raised by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister at the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, and it will be followed up in a meeting that I hope we will have very soon with the Treasury. The Member is quite right to say that it does affect a number of issues, the climate change levy being one of them. Corporation tax is another, and the differential in fuel is something that we in the North of Ireland know is causing great difficulties. These are matters that can only be resolved at Treasury level, and we are making representations in Westminster and Dublin to ensure that people in the North of Ireland are not penalised as a result of policies in either place, or both.
Does the Minister agree that the border region in particular has suffered adversely as a result of the gross disparity in excise duties, and that it is therefore very important not to introduce the climate levy change to Northern Ireland as it will only add to our difficulties?
The Deputy First Minister:
I take the Member's point that, though such may not have been intended, there are adverse impacts, which are most acute in the border areas. We referred to them in our report on the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. The First Minister and I raised the issue at that meeting, which was attended by the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, and we will continue to draw it to the attention of the Treasury. The proposed levy could have very serious effects on Northern Ireland. It could increase electricity prices, which are already substantially higher than those in Britain, and this could significantly inhibit our industrial competitiveness.
Furthermore, such an increase could frustrate current efforts to secure private sector investment for the development of the gas infrastructure in the north-west and the south-east, including any discussions between the North of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on gas interconnection.